Self Care: A Pledge to Love
Author and happiness coach Katie Oman makes the case for bringing more self-love into our lives.
by Katie Oman
It is my belief that self-love is one of the most important things we can focus on in our lives; the foundation of real happiness. Many would have you believe that it’s not much more than a hashtag (Instagram has 34.5 million results for #selflove), but that’s totally missing the point. In a nutshell, self-love means accepting and appreciating yourself for who you are. You celebrate the true uniqueness that is you, and understand the value of all you have to contribute in life.
That means never feeling the need to apologise for simply being yourself, to not settle for less than you deserve, and to know categorically that you deserve to always be treated with love and respect. Ultimately, the main goal of self-love is to live a life that allows you to be mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually happy and healthy.
When you truly love yourself for who you are, rather than being dependent upon outside goals and achievements (as society seemingly encourages you to), you are able to move through the world with a greater sense of compassion for other people. Not only that, but it helps you move through life with a greater sense of ease. No matter what challenges or adversities crop up in your life, you will be able to tap into your reserves of resilience, which will in turn give you the strength to deal with the issues effectively.
Starting to Self-Love
Although the concept of self-love is seemingly one that everyone should welcome into their life, in practice it can be one that many people struggle with. When we are born, our light shines brightly, without any kind of fear or self-doubt. Infants accept themselves totally as they are; they are pure love in essence. But, as we grow older and have to go out into the world, we start to experience things and other people that may put huge dampeners on your ability to love and accept yourself in this way.
As such, when you start to try and love yourself, you’ll find yourself up against a few things. First off, you are dealing with years of beliefs about how awful you have told yourself you are. It’s like going to deep clean an old house that has been left untouched for years and only opening all the windows. You can’t be surprised when the layers of dust and dirt are all still there; you haven’t even begun to touch them. Like ingrained muck, low self-esteem and a low sense of self-worth don’t magically dissolve overnight, no matter how many good intentions you may have.
Secondly, the intention isn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong - wanting to change is a huge step, and actually the most important one. Nothing is going to get better unless you actually want it to, but it’s not enough on its own. To make real and long-lasting changes, you need to have a toolbox of things that you can refer to time and time again to help you bring in the long-lasting changes you seek. Fortunately, I have a number of exercises that you can use interchangeably and simultaneously to help you do just that.
Mirror Work - originally developed by inspirational teacher Louise Hay, mirror work is an exercise that has the power to change your life. By taking ourselves to the mirror, we are confronted with the image we have of ourselves; there’s no hiding. Hence it can be something that makes us feel deeply uncomfortable, especially as your inner critic will see this as a trigger to come to the fore. But, with patience and practice, mirror work can be profoundly healing and help to release the issues that are holding you back. Set aside at least five minutes a day to spend time in front of the mirror when you won’t be disturbed. When your critic does make an appearance, have a loving affirmation to say in response, such as ‘I am worthy of love’, or ‘I am enough as I am’. Allow any emotions that arise to flow freely without judgement, and look to keep a record of your experiences as a learning tool to reflect upon for your own healing.
Three Compliments Journal - in a notebook, write three compliments towards yourself first thing in the morning. No matter how big or small, find things to appreciate about yourself and write them down before reading them aloud to yourself. Although it may seem like a waste of time at first, by doing this every day you will slowly shift your mindset to a more loving perception with regards to yourself.
Find Your Love Squad - it is said that you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time with. So, let me ask you, are the people around you loving and supportive or toxic? Do they make you feel good about yourself, or do they trigger you into making your sense of worth feeling even worse? As tough as it may seem, removing toxic people from your life (both in real life and online) is vital to helping you love yourself. This can be the hardest step to put into practice because we are so emotionally involved with other people, but having connections with people that are not based in love is a very unhealthy place for you to be.
If there are people that are putting you down, treating you badly, and making you feel that you’re not worthy, then it’s time to consider stepping away from them for your own wellbeing. It’s difficult to cultivate a loving mindset when you have people around you that seem to constantly pull you down. Instead, try to spend more time with people who believe in you, inspire you, and empower you to be your best self. Your Love Squad will help you to keep loving yourself, even on the days when it’s harder to do so.
Letter of Forgiveness - when we carry around anger, guilt, hurt and shame, it’s incredibly difficult to move into a space of love for yourself; these things becomes huge weights and blocks in our hearts. Forgiveness is the key to helping you get past them. Forgiving isn’t about condoning what others have done for you. Neither do you have to suddenly bring them back into your life if you’re already estranged from them, or stop talking to someone who is still a part of your life now. Forgiveness is about you, and swapping your pain for your own sense of peace. It can be hard to do though, and the Letter of Forgiveness is a wonderful way to let the hurt go.
To engage with this, set aside at least two hours to yourself where you won’t be disturbed. Start by taking several sheets of paper and writing a letter to the person who has hurt you. They are never going to see this letter; no one is, as it’s for your benefit. The idea is to release all of the pain from your heart and mind onto the paper. Let the pen flow and write down everything they ever did and how it made you feel. Don’t censor yourself or worry about spellings. Once it’s written, read it aloud to yourself. Then take it outside and safely burn it - releasing the energy up to the Universe. When you are left with ashes, return them to the soil.
Next, run yourself a salt bath. You can use 1 cup of Epsom salt, sea salt, or table salt for a standard-size bathtub. Pour the salt into the warm running bath water and use your hand to stir the water to help dissolve all the grains, then soak in the tub for at least 20 minutes. You can meditate or listen to relaxing music whilst you do so.
Finally, write a letter to yourself, detailing all of your dreams and goals for the future. Pin this up somewhere you’ll see it regularly.
The Letter of Forgiveness is a tool that can has the potential to make a powerful and long-lasting difference to your life. It also has the benefit that you can write them for as many people as you like whom you need to forgive.
Healthy Diet - The word ‘diet’ relates to everything that is having an impact upon your life: food; drink; substances; media; and entertainment. It is important to treat yourself with the nurturing care and love that your body needs. This isn’t about extremes of one kind or another, but listening to what your body needs and giving it a balanced variety of food and drink. Some days you will want chocolate and cake, and that’s okay. The idea is however to eat a proportionate amount of this, rather than binging upon it and bringing excess fat and sugar into your body. Look to nurture yourself and focus upon making your health the best it can be. In this sense, you will be giving your body the love it needs; especially if you bring in enjoyable regular exercise too.
In terms of media and entertainment, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re consuming on a regular basis. Television programmes, films, newspapers, music, books and magazines all have an effect upon how we see ourselves and the world. The more you consume information that makes you feel bad about yourself, the harder it’s going to be to maintain a loving energy towards yourself. Look critically at what the entertainment you’re turning to on a daily basis, and check in with yourself as to how it makes you feel. Seek out things that seek to make you feel good about yourself instead.
Treat Yourself Like Your Own Best Friend - we are all wonderful at giving care, love and nurturing to those who matter to us, and it’s vital that we give ourselves the same attention. This means celebrating your successes and accomplishments, no matter how big or small they may be. It’s about encouraging yourself to reach for achievable goals, and cheering yourself on every step of the way. And it also means engaging in some real self-care. Not only choosing the things that bring you joy, but having the tough discussions with yourself that you need to. If your best friend was doing things that you knew were potentially harmful for them, then you would try to have a heart-to-heart conversation with them about it because you care. You can give yourself that same support by being honest with yourself and doing what’s best for you. It may not always be easy, but it will ultimately mean a more loving relationship with yourself in the long run.
When you seek to love yourself first, then you have a bedrock that’ll be with you, regardless of whether anyone else is loving you or not. You won’t seek any sense of worth or validation through another because you understand that you can give it to yourself. It’s like filling up your own cup first before you allow anyone else into your space. When others then give their love to you, you can then accept it because you want to, rather than any desperate sense of needing it.
Besides, the relationship you have with yourself is the longest and most important relationship you will ever have. You can spend your life hating yourself and wishing you were someone else, or you can try to see things differently and give yourself the love you need. It is a lifelong journey, but one that will ultimately prove to be the most rewarding.
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